Cambodia is currently in a situation that some analysts have compared to how things were during the ’70s. Through her open letter to The Phnom Penh Post, published on September 18, Ms Ratha Panh went as far as to accuse the Cambodian government of disregarding “friendly hands of Western nations”, leading the nation to repeating the tragic history and placing the country into dependency on China.
After the deployment of UNTAC in 1992, Cambodia became an NGO heaven. An influx of foreign aid came to Cambodia unlike anywhere else. To the point that a British writer, Alex de Waal, came up with the term “humanitarian international”. By 1998, Cambodia’s population was comprised of more children than adults. The poverty rate was over 45 percent.
All NGOs and international development agencies operating in the country received tax exemptions. So the largest proportion of the GDP came from tax free foreign aid. Cambodia had clearly become an aid dependent nation.
Given our situation, Cambodia needed the help. So aid money was great. However, we shouldn’t be living off other people’s support forever. As it reflected in its policy making, after peace was achieved in 1998, the country switched gears and its national priorities became to maintain peace, secure stability and attract investments to create jobs and grow the economy and to sustain growth. These priorities can be achieved only via business and not through continued aid money.
When Cambodia started pushing to attract foreign investments, it didn’t make the policy to serve and attract only Chinese investors. It was and is for everyone. It just happened that only Chinese investors were willing to come in and invest. The country needs grants to restore and build infrastructure and to sustain its rapid growth of energy demand. As we have witnessed, so far only the Chinese government has been willing to lend its hand to help.
When it comes to relationships between countries, the relations are solely based on interests. Cambodia-China relations are solely based on interests. The two countries need one another on a wide-range of issues. So this relationship has worked pretty well. As for the Cambodia-US relationships, on the one hand, we have seen great improvements until early 2016.
On the other hand, we have seen in the latest development that a US-based NGO, National Democratic Institute (NDI), who is supposed to be neutral, has been providing direct support to help a political party that has one sole goal: to defeat the political party in power.
Also, as we have seen in the video clip of Mr Kem Sokha’s speech to his supporters in Australia, he claimed that the US “chose him to work on a set of long-term strategies to change regime in Cambodia”. Mr Sokha went on to claim that “international experts were hired to assist him in implementing the strategies”.
Now, my very simple question is this: what would the United States do if Donald Trump was caught on tape giving a speech claiming that Russia, China or the UK were behind his win?
For his claims, based on Cambodian laws, Mr Sokha is suspected of committing treason. I believe, according to US laws, if Mr Trump had given such a speech and it was video-taped, he would be subject to similar accusations and prosecuted. So why is it that when the Cambodian government takes action to protect its national security and sovereignty, it is seen as “politically motivated”, “siding with China”, “disregarding friendly hands of Western nations”, and “bringing the nation back to the tragic history”? By doing so we are insinuating that Cambodia is a second-class citizen and not entitled to the same rights and privileges as the US when it comes to deciding its own affairs.
It’s also worth noting that, so far, via public media, the only demand from the Cambodian government to the US was to deny Mr Sokha’s claims are false. The US government hasn’t done so. Instead, it started its Red Herring campaign on social media with the hashtag #RedHerringKH.
In my opinion, this is absolutely absurd.
I am writing this letter with the intention to invite Cambodians back home and overseas to take a tiny bit of time to do research, read through publicly available information, from different sources, to gain more fact-based knowledge prior to giving support or joining movements that were created out of rhetoric or false facts. Remember, those movements might have a biased tendency of serving the interests and the agendas of some powerful country and might bring Cambodia back into its tragic history.
a Cambodian living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.